While on the surface, it’s easy to think that Fashion Month is just about scrolling through the world’s most coveted, exclusive, and expensive designers’ chic new designs and living vicariously through your favorite influencers and their picture perfect fits — and don’t get me wrong, this is a huge part of the fun — but it’s important to remember that there’s more to every show than what meets the eye. As a result of social media and the international nature of Fashion Month, designers have a platform that allows them to create social change and interact with larger movements while simultaneously spreading and influencing trends. Whether they focused on inclusion or sustainability, these four designers weren’t afraid to highlight the true power of fashion by creating equally stylish and socially conscious collections.  

Kate Spade 

Kate Spade New York’s Spring 2020 collection, full of colorful, quintessentially feminine looks paired with house plants, proved that fashion should be accessible to all by featuring a diverse cast of women. This included influencers, artists, and models of all ages and body types. Each of the city-safari inspired looks showcased the wearer’s personal style — pregnant model Laura Scott sported a lilac striped dress with a preppy polo inspired collar; actress Debi Mazur and daughter Evelina Corcos wore coordinating floral frocks; 65 year old influencer, Lyn Slater, rocked oversized sunglasses and striped pants; Karley Sciortino, founder of sex positive website Slutever, sported two colorful bags with a structured white two-piece set. 

Prabal Gurung 

With designs inspired by both American fashion history and multiculturalism, Nepalese born Prabal Gurung used his 10th anniversary show to redefine what it means to be an American, and as he said during his show notes, “present an ode to the true American dream.” The show—which was originally set to take place at Hudson Yards’ Vessel, but abruptly switched after Gurung learned of real estate developer Stephen Ross’s Trump fundraiser in August — featured a diverse cast of models sporting looks in Prabal Gurung’s signature floral and color-filled style. Think asymmetrical skirts and puffy gowns coupled with Americana details including tailored denim and cowboy boots. For their final walk, the models all sported red, white, and blue pageant style sashes emblazoned with the question “Who gets to be American?” 

Stella McCartney 

Stella McCartney’s Summer 2020 collection — inspired by powerful women, with odes to the circle of life and circular economy, includes round designs and a bold backtrack video of animals mating. This is the designer’s most sustainable collection to date. 75 percent of the materials for the looks, which boasted sleek silhouettes, graphic lines, and scalloped detailing, came from eco-friendly sources including organic cotton, hemp, and recycled polyester. McCartney also directly addressed climate change by hosting a roundtable sustainability discussion the evening before the show with environmentalists and animal rights activists, and provided show attendees with a sustainable fashion timeline card rather than notes on her collection. 

Gabriela Hearst  

Once again, Gabriela Hearst proves you don’t have to sacrifice style for sustainability by producing the first ever carbon neutral runway show for New York Fashion Week. The eco-conscious designer cut down on power usage and waste; the models even walked with wet hair to avoid using electricity and had EcoAct calculate emissions from her show in a bid to set a new industry standard. The simplicity of the production allowed the pieces to speak for themselves — the collection started and ended with monochromatic black and white looks, with an assortment of blue and jewel tones in the middle — all featuring the label’s signature luxurious detailing and craft.  

And designers weren’t the only ones using Fashion Month to create change. During Gucci’s Milan show, some models sported boxy white uniform-inspired pieces meant to symbolize conformity contrasted with colorful, unique pieces, which intended to show the possibilities of self expression that can be displayed through fashion. However, after watching a model walk off of the job and talking with other models for the show, model Ayesha Tan-Jones decided to protest the fashion house’s use of straitjackets and choice to “allude to mental patients.” Rather than simply standing still with their hands by their side on the moving conveyor belt runway, Tan-Jones — who has experienced mental health struggles before — wrote, “mental health is not fashion” on their hands and held them up for the audience to see.  

Moving forward, expect to see more changes during future Fashion Weeks, and get inspired as a consumer to support sustainable and socially conscious brands. 

All Runway Photos: gorunway.com

Cover Photo: Refinery29